Status: Native Permanent Resident

(Falco mexicanus)


The prairie falcon is a medium to large bird that frequents the plains of South Dakota. A mature prairie falcon averages 14 to
19 inches (35.5 to 47.5 cm) in length with wingspans approaching 3.5 feet (106.7 cm). Size can vary greatly in falcons. The
female tends to be considerably larger than the male, in some cases a full one-third bigger. The smaller male balances the
pair formation with his added aggressiveness.

Adult prairie falcons are a pale brown to sandy brown across the top of their wings and back. The head is streaked with
light areas around the face. A faint dark mustache appears on either side of the bill. Underneath the birds are creamy white
with brown spotting or streaking on the breast and belly. When in flight, the falcon's underwing displays an area of dark
feathers close to the body, a blackish patch in the wingpit. Falcons all have similar body shapes. They possess slender
bodies, long tails and characteristic long, pointed wings.


Prairie falcons are uncommon permanent residents in South Dakota. They are rare in the mountainous region of the Black
Hills and east of the Missouri River. Birds can be abundant when suitable habitats for nesting and foraging are present. Birds do migrate in the spring and fall, but some birds reside in South Dakota the entire year. The number of migrating birds can be solely dependent upon the severity of winter and the availability of food. Prairie falcons prefer the rough broken terrain found in western South Dakota. There the falcons find suitable nesting sites to raise their young.

Natural History

The prairie falcon is a locally common bird in the semi-arid open plains of South Dakota. These falcons prey chiefly on
small birds and mammals, and on a variety of reptiles and insects. Prairie falcons hunt using low, rapid, searching flight,
usually capturing prey on or near the ground. The prairie falcon, as do other species of falcons, swoops down upon its prey
from behind. A similar species, the peregrine falcon, has been clocked at speeds of over 90 mph in their descents upon prey.

Prairie falcons nest on suitable cliff ledges, low ridges and banks found throughout western South Dakota. Nesting occurs in
mid-April through July. Their nests are often found in rock crevices and sometimes in vacated stick nests left by other birds.
An average female will raise four to five young, while the male accomplishes most of the hunting for the family.

Conservation Measures

All birds of prey are protected by law. It is illegal to harm them or to disturb their nests. It is also against the law to have in
your possession any artifacts from birds of prey, such as feathers, talons or preserved specimens. Injured hawks and owls
should be reported to the S.D. Department of Game, Fish and Parks or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Officials will
arrange for birds that can be saved to be cared for at rehabilitation centers such as the Oahe Wildlife Center in Pierre run by
Dr. Virginia Trexler-Myren or the Reptile Gardens Raptor Rehabilitation Center in Rapid City. See the great horned owl
fact sheet for the educational resources of these centers.


SDOU, 1991. The Birds of South Dakota, NSU Press, Aberdeen, SD 57401.
National Geographic Society, 1987. Birds of North America, Mead Paper Co., New York, NY

Selected Resources For Teachers

Birds of Prey Coloring Book, Dover Publications, 31 E. 2nd St., Mineola, NY 11501. 42 species illustrated.
Birds of Prey Poster , vol. I & II. Windsor/Nature Discovery, 1000 S. Bertlesen #14, Eugene OR. 97402. These are full
color, high quality posters with original artwork of hawks.
Birds of Prey Poster and Mobile set, Education Services, Division of Wildlife, S.D. Department Game, Fish and Parks,
3305 West South Street, Rapid City, SD 57702. This set includes a full color poster with hawk and owl pictures, plus a
mobile and fact sheets.
Birds of Prey Zoobook Series, Wildlife Education Ltd., 9820 Willow Creek Rd., Suite 300, San Diego, CA. 92131. ISBN:
North American Birds of Prey, 1980, a book by William Mansell, with artwork by Gary Low. An informative text with
beautiful paintings.

Written by:
Pat J. Buscher, Pierre, SD 57501. 1996.

Illustration by:
Frank Beebe, taken from The Complete Falconer with permission of Hancock House Publishers, 1431 Harrison Ave.,
Blaine, WA 98230.

Reviewed by:
Dr. Dan Tallman, Department of Math and Natural Sciences, Northern State University, Aberdeen, SD 57401.

Publication of the Prairie Falcon fact sheet was funded by the S.D. Department of Game, Fish, and Parks, Division of
Wildlife, Pierre, SD.